Whitehall knows that the Omicron variant has been spreading rapidly and is triggering alarm bells.

Reports say that civil servants are creating urgent plans for additional restrictions. Yesterday’s emergency Cabinet meeting might be a sign of the future.

Ministers so far have not resisted any further Covid curbs. Boris Johnson, however, made it clear that the clampdown would be held in reserve.

People wearing masks in festive Covent Garden in London on Monday as Christmas approaches. Ministers have so far been resisting further Covid curbs but this may change

On Monday, Christmas Eve in London, mask-wearing people gathered in Covent Garden to celebrate. However, ministers may be open to accepting further Covid curbs.

Ministers insistently followed science throughout the pandemic.

The guidance provided by members of the doom-laden Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, (SAGE), is a crucial ingredient in increasing pressure for action in certain quarters. Their often-criticised modeling has played a central role in the formulation of policy in recent years.


The latest Covid Wave document from the CDC is usually grim. It claims that there may be as many as 6,000 deaths per day. This figure is more than triple the number of deaths in January when we did not have mass vaccination. And it equates to over 180,000 deaths each month. That’s more than what we saw during the whole pandemic.

Sage acknowledges that these are the worst-case scenarios, despite their seemingly absurd numbers in bulletins. However, the Government must stick to Plan B without imposing any further restrictions.

Sage’s model should still be our concern.

Although there are no doubts regarding the accuracy of Sage’s figures, they have been raised by skepticism following the extraordinary Twitter conversation between Fraser Nelson (editor of the Spectator magazine) and Professor Graham Medley (chair of Sage’s modeling committee).

Nelson was puzzled by the disparity between Sage’s reassuring reports and Sage’s dim forebodings. Medley asked Nelson how Medley arrived at their conclusion.

Nelson asked Nelson: If Omicron, like the South Africans believe, is mild, there is no need to lockdown. Why didn’t Sage add this scenario, ‘given this is a very plausible alternative that changes outlook massively. This is easy enough.

Londoners walking past a vaccination centre on Monday. According to the PCCF, hospitalisations may reach around 3,000 per day

A Monday morning sighting of Londoners: Londoners passing by a vaccination center. According to the PCCF hospitalizations can reach up to 3,000 per hour

Medley replied, “Decision-makers only care about situations in which decisions must be made.”

Nelson wondered if Sage models only bad outcomes and excludes more favorable outcomes.

Medley then replied, “We model generally what we’re asked to model,”

It was a remarkable exchange. This is something that most people don’t expect.

It is important that the government knows the probability of every scenario before making any decisions.

People who call for a return in lockdown to stop Omicron’s transmission ignore the bigger impact on the economy, backlog of NHS treatment, mental and domestic abuse, as well the education system.

This month’s Government statistics show that Britain’s GDP remains at 0.8 percent below its level before the pandemic.

It’s likely that lockdown restrictions will cause more deaths than Covid, if there isn’t a strong economic recovery.

Even Plan B’s more restricted restrictions are devastating for the industry of hospitality, the travel sector and the entertainment business.

Once again there is a clamour for the Chancellor Rishi Sunak to produce a rescue package out of thin air to tide businesses over this fraught winter, even though he has already spent more than £400 billion of taxpayers’ money on support programmes, with debts that will saddle future generations to the tune of £2.2 trillion.

Omicron is something we have known for less time than a month. It would be foolish to underestimate its potential impacts.

Sage’s doom must be resisted. The mathematical model I built at Bristol University, called the Predictor Correction Covid Filter or PCCF, allows me to do this. It has proven extremely accurate in forecasting the course of pandemics.

Under current conditions, the PCCF predicts new daily Covid cases in England — already rising fast — could peak at half a million between Christmas and the New Year, ten times up on recent rates.

Omicron is the name of ninety per cent.

In January, Omicron active infections could reach 250,000, which, when combined with slowly decreasing Delta infections, would result in an overall peak of 3.35 million cases.

Sage does warn that while this may seem like a huge number, it is not always the end of the world.


I predict that Omicron’s rise will be very fast — as seen already in London — but that will equate to a decline at almost the same speed, so that active infections are likely to be below where we are now in a month’s time, and set to fade away as we move into spring.

Evidence from South Africa supports this outlook. There, the National Institute of Communicable Diseases, estimates that the death rate (the number of people infected who die) is about half of last winter’s Delta wave. This is more than twice the amount for vulnerable 70- to 79 year-olds.

The relative mildness of the new strain is confirmed not only by the fact that hospital stays are much shorter for Omicron patients — around three days as opposed to 11 for Delta patients — but also that fewer such patients need oxygen or intensive care when in hospital.

People queue outside a vaccination centre on Sunday. Under current conditions, the PCCF predicts new daily Covid cases in England could peak at half a million between Christmas and the New Year

People queue outside a vaccination centre on Sunday. According to current conditions, half a billion Covid cases are expected in England by the New Year.

However, that does not mean it will be easy. According to the PCCF model, deaths are certain to rise beyond 100 every day.

However, it is unlikely that they will exceed 500 deaths per day in England. Although this number is a significant amount of tragedies in their own right, it’s far lower than the 1,800 deaths per day across the UK last January.


In the same vein, according to the PCCF, hospitalisations may reach around 3,000 per day, higher than the current rate of 800 but still below January’s peak of 4,100 — a number that was achieved during a full national lockdown, and which was considered not to have overwhelmed the NHS.

My modeling shows that the numbers are manageable even without any additional Covid restrictions.

Like I said, it is not possible to remain indifferent, nor should one become complacent. I do not see the need for additional restrictions or lockdowns. Sage may be right.

It is correct for the government to consider the booster programme our only defense. However, it should not be mistaken that we need to trust in the wisdom and self-control of the British people.

People who are at risk or vulnerable are adapting their behavior without needing to follow more bureaucratic rules. After all, we all desire a Merry Christmas.

It is also important to remember that winter brings with it an increase in hospitalizations and respiratory deaths.

We risk falling prey to authoritarian control if we give in to doom-mongers once more.

Normality beckons if — as yesterday — the Government continues to hold its nerve, keep to the pragmatic path and refuse to be bullied into fearful measures by modelling that is predicated on exaggerated fears. 

Philip Thomas has been appointed Visiting Academic Professor of the University of Bristol.